If instantaneous time travel were a reality, I would go back to the United States this weekend. Perhaps I would drop into Denver and catch the Broncos game. Peyton Manning lives there now, and I live in Bratislava. Who saw that coming? I might swing into a university town – maybe East Lansing to catch my alma mater’s football game. We would tailgate and barbecue and sing our fight song off key. The university structure in the United States, and the sub-culture which wraps around it, is unique. Each fall it springs back to life. After the game, we would stop by a farm stand and pick up apples, maybe a jug of cider and freshly made donuts. The air smells crisper and cleaner. My grandmother used to burn leaves in the fall. On a cold day, she wrapped up in her tweed wool “leaf burning coat”. We lived next door. As that first scent of burning leaves wafted through the window, I flew out the door to join her. She stood next to a tall metal drum poking the leaves down with a long stick. Her cigarette, dangling precariously off the edge of her lower lip, bobbed as she talked to me. As we huddled together, sparks crackled and smoke blew into our faces. I still love the smell of leaves burning. The dog days of summer are finally gone. The hills are golden and red. As autumn comes to an end, families gather and eat turkey, clutch our full bellies, and laze around watching football games on TV. This year, we will debate the just held election results before each sharing what we are thankful for during the closing year. For me, these autumn traditions define us as Americans.
Slovakia has its own traditions. I’m sure a Slovak in America would yearn for home right about now. During the harvest season, the Slovaks celebrate with a goose festival. Goose, with the fixings of red cabbage and potato pancakes, is ubiquitous. Restaurants dust off their goose feast
advertisements in September. Although it runs for several weeks, my friends tell me they eat goose just once and traditionally on the weekend of their village wine festival. Wine making is a centuries old remnant of the German and Roman influences on this region. The wine towns dotting the lower Carpathians just beyond Bratislava each have a wine festival weekend. Last week, Pezinok celebrated their festival and before that, Raca and Modra. It is a season to celebrate a bountiful harvest, and I’m sure to give thanks. Neighbors and friends join together to turn grapes from their modest backyard arbors into a few hundred bottles of wine. The wine will be enjoyed during future holidays or shared with friends as Christmas gifts.
Under the thin veneer of difference, we increasingly recognize the similarities of people percolating below the surface. Family, friends, wine, songs, games, dance and food made from traditional family recipes all live in our
core. This fall, I am here in Bratislava. Tonight, we will go to St. Martin’s Cathedral to hear the Bratislava Boys Choir sing. I’ll grab a jacket against the increasing chill. We’ll stroll home through Old Town and probably stop someplace for a glass of wine. We will know the waiter, and he will greet us as if we are old friends. We will catch up in broken, noun rich English. When we get home, we will watch college football late into the night. And next week, we will celebrate the season with a goose feast.
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